The major U.S. media, owned by six corporations, constantly misinformed and vilified him. Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research pointed out that “media reporting was effective in convincing most Americans that Venezuela was a ruinous dictatorship.”
Incredibly, the Associated Press business reporter lamented that “Chávez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs like state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education.” Instead, the AP reporter suggested, he should have built splendid buildings and glittering cities as oil-rich Middle East countries do.
The truth is otherwise. Chávez was the greatest South American since Venezuelan Simón Bolivar freed Latin America from the Spanish yoke. Chávez joins the great revolutionaries in world history like Lenin, Trotsky, Mao and Castro.
The Chávez legacy is sterling: thumbing his nose at the United States. He led Latin America nations to do likewise. He ended U.S. dominance, “killing” the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 that warned nations to keep hands off Latin America. It was a doctrine that the United States used as a pretext for constant invasions and interventions of Latin nations.
His democratic socialism attacked social and racial inequality. It created genuine regional integration. He inspired the rise of the Left in Latin America: Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Brazil’s Lula da Silva, Argentina’s Cristina and Néstor Kirchner, Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa.
André Vltchek, writing for the online Countercurrents, put it well: “Chávez knew that poor people have to be housed, fed, educated and given medical care. He knew that the wealthy world, which became rich through plunder, colonial expansion and brutality, has to stop looting and terrorizing.”
No wonder the people loved him. As the UK Guardian wrote in an obituary tribute: “He appeared as an indestructible ox speaking to his people for hours in a warm, sonorous voice. His speeches were littered with homilies, continental and national history and quotes from Bolivar. president of Venezuela.”
He and Fidel Castro of Cuba embraced in a common cause. Castro too was hated by the U.S. government for daring to establish communism in the Caribbean.
Former President Jimmy Carter, perhaps the most humane U.S. president since FDR, called the Venezuelan presidential system “the best in the world.” And an observer with the National Lawyers Guild called its voting system an example of democracy in action.”
Oliver Stone in his documentary of Chávez noted how the American media demonized him. But his view is quite different: he praised Chávez as “benevolent, generous, tolerant and courageous.”
The Bush II administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it backed a failed military coup against Chávez in 2002.
And as far back as 1976, long before Chavez became president, the United States in Operation Condor provided aid and resources to friendly dictators if they supported American might in South America. Such policies involved privatizing national resources and selling them to foreign corporations and defunding and privatizing public programs such as education and health care.
Chávez, who idolized Bolivar, led the Bolivarian Revolution that made Latin Americans proud.
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.